Friday, November 15, 2013

Texas Rangers and “The Favorite Saloon”

Ernest Schwethelm
For decades the men of the Schwethelm (pronounced “Sweet-helm”) family were virtually synonymous with the Texas Rangers. A background as lawman subsequently gave Ernest Schwethelm important credentials for running saloons in the wild and violent Texas Hill Country.  Even a fellow Texas Ranger might find his demise in one of Schwethelm’s drinking establishments.

Ernest’s father, Henry Schwethelm, was born in Dusseldorf, Germany but at an early age with his family emigrated to Texas.  At 17 Henry joined Captain L. H. Nelson’s Texas Ranger Company stationed in San Antonio.  He moved on to serve with Capt. John W. Sansom’s company, headquartered in Kerrville, the seat of Kerr County. Both were named for James Kerr, a major in the Texas Revolution.

During the Civil War Henry, like many of this fellow Germans, was favorable to the Union.   He participated in an armed clash along the Nueces River with Confederate troops.  Many Germans Unionists died and the skirmish became known in Texas lore as “the Nueces Massacre.” Schwethelm is accounted one of two known survivors. Eventually he reached New Orleans and enlisted as a Union soldier.

Returning to Kerr County after the war’s end, Henry was reunited with his wife, Emilie Stieler of D’Hanis Texas, whom he had married in 1862.  For a time he settled down to the life of a  rancher.   Ernest, born in 1865, was the second of three Schwethelm sons. A few months after the war Reconstruction-era Texas Governor E. J. Davis appointed Henry as captain of his own
The Ranch Saloon
Texas Ranger company patrolling western Kerr County against cattle thieves.  Henry’s assignment ended eleven years later when his company was disbanded and he returned to full time ranching.

In time two of his sons would be recorded as serving with the Texas Rangers,  including Ernest who is shown above at a San Antonio reunion of the Capt. J. H. Callahan Rangers.  During the late 1800s Ernest with a partner came to own and operate saloons in Kerrville.   Among his drinking establishments were the Ranch Saloon, located at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets, and The Favorite
The Favorite Saloon
Saloon at 709 Water.   Both were sturdy Italianate style buildings made of cut limestone and designed by the subsequently famous Texas architect, Alfred Giles.

The Ranch Saloon had a reputation for being a rowdy place and reputedly was the site of the murder of a Texas Ranger.  He was Tom Carson,  a tough, bad-tempered, and somewhat mysterious character.  About 1880, he was recorded as part of a small Ranger scouting party in the Fort Davis area looking for the perpetrators of a series of robberies.   Near del Norte they came across a gang of thieves carrying their loot toward Mexico.  In the firefight that ensued, a shot cut Carson’s hat brim and another passed under his leg, cutting his stirrup and wounding his horse.  Unfazed, he wounded one of the robbers and aided the killing and capturing of the band. Carson reportedly was shot and killed in the Ranch Saloon in April 1893.  Details about the event and Carson’s assailant are sketchy.

No such violence was attached to Schwethelm’s Favorite Saloon. In addition to being a “watering hole” for thirsty ranchers and cowboys, this establishment also included a rectifying operation, taking a variety of whiskeys, blending them to taste, and selling them in gallon jugs like the one shown here.  Note that the label advertises that “mail orders a specialty.”  This indicates that Earnest was selling his whiskey via the post office or railroad express to the increasing number of “dry” counties around Texas.  As a place where whiskey also could be bought across the bar, the saloon issued metal tokens good for trade.

A major customer base  for both the Ranch and Favorite Saloons was produced by the ranch hands supplying the wool and fleece market that operated in Kerrville.  An early settler described the scene:  “The saloon belonged to Ernest Schwethelm....There was an open area, an entrance to the camp yard between the buildings and the river.  Here the freighters came in with the covered wagons full of wool and mohair....It was also convenient to the two large saloons downtown.”
Wagons Heading to Kerrville

Meanwhile Ernest Schwethelm was having a personal life.  Married in the early 1890s, the 1910 Census found him living in Kerrville with his wife, Mary (Gruen), and two daughters.  They were Emilie, 15, and Mathilde, 13.  In March 1912 the aging Captain Henry Schwethelm and wife Emilie,  celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  A photo shows the couple seated beside a table on which sit gifts and mementoes.  Behind them are ranged their three sons.  Ernest is the one in the middle.  Captain Henry died in 1924;  Emilie in 1933.

In 1912, perhaps because of its reputation for mayhem, Ernest and his partner sold the Ranch Saloon but continued to operate The Favorite Saloon.  Prohibition forces, however, were closing in on the Texas liquor trade.  Temperance forces in 1908 and 1911 tried for a statewide prohibition law but lost the referendum by a close margin. At the same time, under “local option,” the number of dry counties surrounding Kerrville was increasing. All of North Texas was dry.  Only areas with relatively large concentrations of Germans, like Kerrville, or of Latinos continued to permit the liquor trade.  In 1913 the passage of the Webb-Kenyon Act by the U.S. Congress forbid mail order sales into “dry” areas, thereby cutting off that business for Schwethelm.  In 1919 Texas voted a statewide ban on alcohol
The Saloon as Drug Store
and a year later National Prohibition went into effect.  The Favorite Saloon was summarily closed.

The subsequent life of the Schwethelms is not recorded in later Kerr County census data. Earnest died in 1935 and is buried in Glen Rest Cemetery, Kerrville, with his wife along side and his parents nearby.  The Favorite Saloon subsequently was turned to other uses.  A 1920s photo shows it on Kerrville's Water Street,  second building from the right, employed as a drug store.  A sign that likely once said “Saloon” now said “Soda.”  Today both the Favorite Saloon and Ranch Saloon buildings have been restored.  They are part of the Kerrville Historical District and standing reminders of a Texas Ranger veteran named Schwethelm who knew how to run a Texas saloon.

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